On Feb. 1, the Writing Center organized an event to talk about teaching in the age of ChatGPT, the natural language model that has taken the mainstream by storm. Over 200 people attended the event, which was sponsored by the Humanities Institute’s Digital Humanities and Media Studies Initiative, the Writing Center and the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Professors gathered to discuss urgent concerns about course policies, practices and ethics in the era of ChatGPT. They also posed philosophical questions discussing ChatGPT’s implications for thinking and language, teaching and learning and the purposes of higher education.
Professors shared their experiences adapting to ChatGPT in the classroom and their opinions on its use.
Professors at the discussion had varying views on whether or not students should be allowed to use ChatGPT in their assignments.
As an English professor, Yohei Igarashi does not discourage his students from utilizing ChatGPT in his class. Instead, he tells his students that they need to cite it.
“If you don’t acknowledge it, I’m going to consider it plagiarism in the same way that I would if you don’t acknowledge sources,” Igarashi said. “But I didn’t prohibit them or discourage them from using it.”
Igarashi said that the problem of trying to coax original thoughts out of students has been a problem since the internet and pointed out that professors have always been able to adapt.
“I think teachers are really good at coming up with assignments that facilitate that,” Igarashi said. “A lot of the things we already do to make our assignments very specific still work for now with large language models and text generators like ChatGPT.”
Professors also raised concerns about determining the boundary between utilizing ChatGPT as a tool and exploiting it for plagiarism, acknowledging that students can use it for more than just generating writing.
Some professors are okay with students using ChatGPT as an assignment tool.
Kyle Booten, an English professor using ChatGPT as a tool for his book, hoped that ChatGPT would not be solely known to students as “the thing that writes your paper for you.” Instead, he and many other professors at the event expressed a desire for more people to recognize the capabilities and potential of ChatGPT.
“It can also make writing more challenging in different ways, catalyze your thinking in ways that are unique to it, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity to figure out what those ways are,” Booten said.
Alexandra Paxton, a psychology professor, believes it is a great tool to help students draft their ideas.
“As long as they’re authentically speaking and they’re putting the intellectual effort on their own, I’m fine with that,” Paxton said. “I want them to be sparked and interested to invest in the assignment and invest in their own ideas and thinking about their own lives, and that’s not something ChatGPT can do for them.”
However, some professors are afraid that students would use ChatGPT to generate ideas instead of thinking for themselves.
“I think a lot of the panic is not about the particular word choices. It’s that at least some students are going to use it to generate the ideas, which is the whole point of the learning exercise,” Michael Morrell, a political science professor, said. “Acknowledgement is not enough; I want them to at least try to do these ideas on their own.”
There was also discussion about how bias in AI can force dominant writing styles onto marginalized people, who are usually oppressed in their writing, according to Paxton.
“In using this as proofreading, in using this as a generator, are we whitening, masculating our voices so that people don’t have authenticity?” Paxton asked. “How are we excluding voices from our communications and implicitly allowing undergraduates to have their own voices and authenticity removed?”
She says that these marginalized groups may not be represented in the data that these AI models are trained on.
“There is not equity and access to the sorts of materials that then create the data sets that are then used to create the models,” Paxton said.
On the other hand, professor Arash Zaghi uses ChatGPT as an assistive technology for neurodiverse learners.
“Think about it as 24/7 writing assistance at their disposal,” Zaghi said.
The event allowed for virtual or in-person attendance at the Homer Babbidge Library.
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There is no one answer. It’s like a coin with two sides or black and white. For example, I’m a student and I combine work and study. Of course, I’m the person who uses the writing service but I use the same edubirdie.org as they showed themselves as the most reliable for me. When I have more time, I write an essay or any other type of work and send them to check or re-write, otherwise they write me the essay and I learn from it. So, it depends on how people are going to use Al.